A First-Week Theater Binge At The Hollywood Fringe Festival
The annual Hollywood Fringe Festival is back in its fifth edition with over 275 shows running day and night in 40 or so theater spaces, all in one neighborhood, through the end of the month. The quality and content of the productions vary wildly, but tickets (available online, at the festival's Fringe Central community space or at the door for each show) are cheap, most of the shows are short, and it's fun to take your chances, throw caution to the wind and just go see whatever's playing at any given moment. That's how we do it, anyway. So far, we've only caught these six shows over the festival's first-week preview period, but we've got more on the way.
Ben Moroski's The Wake is less a "one-man show" than a single-character play. Or a play within a play, really. Moroski introduces himself in character as Pete Harrisburg, a substitute teacher by trade who's making his stage debut in a conventionally autobiographical one-man show called The Wake, which he's put together under the guidance of a kind of new age drama therapy coach. He even distributes programs for this second-level iteration of The Wake to us in the audience. It's not long, though, before Pete can't stand performing his prepared monologue any more and compulsively shares the real story of what's happened to him over the past few days. The whole thing is both extremely funny and, as Pete's creepy confessional tale unwinds, almost breathtakingly tense. There are always a couple of must-sees in every Fringe Festival, and The Wake is definitely one of those this year.
"The Wake" plays through June 28.
Another should-see at the very least, Amy Tofte's unsettling comedy about an interracial couple on the verge of divorce, who agree to become the subjects of a socio-scientific study in exchange for half off their legal fees, is a very strong play. One of four shows in this year's festival produced by the Fierce Backbone theater company, Broken Panda also features an impressive cast sensitively directed by Leigh Kennicott. Once they sign the papers proffered by their impassive-aggressive family law mediator, the husband and wife end up in the clutches of another interracial couple whose clinical methods involve a series of apparently sadistic experiments. The motives behind the ordeal meted out by the researchers are never quite made clear, but the results are undeniable.
"Broken Panda" plays through June 29.
Having already won "Best of Fringe" awards in 2012 and 2013, and fresh off a successful appearance on America's Got Talent, the hipster-y magic act of David Blatter and Leeman Parker seems like kind of a ringer in this year's festival. But that's not our problem—this show is very cool and frequently amazing. Our favorite moments are the ones where they get into the heads and senses of audience volunteers and mess around with them. Or at least that's what seems to be happening. If you see this show and get picked to participate in any of the tricks or illusions or games or whatever they are, feel free to let us know in the comments what you think happened to you (though nobody go giving away the secret of how anything gets done, of course).
"Magic and Other Dangerous Things" plays through June 27.
Much Ado About Something is the inaugural production of a new Los Angeles theater company called Better Than Shakespeare! devoted to producing theatrical parodies of classics by the Bard. Writer-director Megan Kelly's adaptation of "Much Ado" cleverly wraps contemporary lingo in Shakespearean cadences and spins a dramatic plot line that consistently echoes, but also regularly diverges from, the original source material. The play starts, for example, with the arrival of a flying saucer bearing malevolent aliens from outer space, and all due hilarity ensues from that. But the company's real achievement here, in between the battles between the earthlings and the intergalactic invaders, is the creation of a plausible contemporary alt-Shakespearean narrative drama that neatly reframes the characters and setting of the original. The production is not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as it's trying to be, but it certainly is smart.
"Much Ado About Something" plays through June 21.
Another new theater company in town, Ray Burley Productions, introduces itself in this year's Fringe with four short plays by four different playwrights, all featuring the same quartet of actors, about trees and the creatures who love them. In the best of these pieces, an Earth Firster-type activist has climbed atop a tree to protect it from being chopped down the next day, only to hear the tree urge him during the night to let it die. In the silliest of the four, a bunch of different kinds of trees actively participate in online dating.
"Four Tree Plays" plays through June 29.
High on energy and attitude, if short on intrigue and action, Riot Grrrl Saves the World presents a trio of kick-ass high schoolers who publish a grrrl empowerment zine and play in a punk band together. When a teenage Jehovah's Witness tentatively responds to their recruitment message, two of the three grrrls really don't want to hang out with her, but the third one falls in love and they start up a relationship. Will the inevitable tensions of growing up and branching out in the world break up either the group or the couple? The only way to find out is to see Riot Grrrl Saves the World.
"Riot Grrrl Saves the World" plays through June 28.